The Christian messenger must do his utmost not to add any more difficulties, in his endeavor to bring the saving Word of God to Muslims. This is why, as a matter of principle, I do not favor having many translations of the Bible into Arabic, or any other Islamic language.
Let me be specific. Arabic is a living and changing language. I have personally compiled a list of the new Arabic vocabulary that I had not known or heard prior to 1950. Every time I look at Asharq al-Awsat or Assafir Newspapers, or the digital contents of BBC Arabic, I discover (now in 2005) new Arabic words. But, this does not mean that the language is of such a nature that ‘older’ Arabic cannot be deciphered by contemporary Arabs. Why? Because Arabic is based on the Qur’an. This document plays a very significant role in the life of all-Arabic speaking people, regardless of their religious affiliation. Arabic is tied to the Qur’an much more than English is related to the AV or to Shakespeare. Thus, the necessity for revision is much less needed than in Western languages.
One must always remember that any revision of an existing Arabic Bible is very confusing to Arabic-speaking Muslims. They cannot help but ask: why do you keep revising the Bible? We can and do read and understand the great books that were produced during the revival of Classical Arabic and Arab culture in the 19th Century; so why should the 1865 version of the Arabic Bible need revision?
But even a more serious reason for my refusing to believe in the need for new and newer versions of the Bible in Arabic is theological. I may be here stepping on dangerous grounds. The pioneers who worked on the translation of the Bible in the 19th Century were churchmen, and operated within confessional contexts. They adhered to the early Ecumenical Creeds and to the Reformed Catechisms and Confessions of Faith. They believed that that Reformation was a reforming movement within the Church, and that reformation can be achieved by turning to the Word of God. They had not rejected the Apostolic Tradition. They were not innovators, but reformers.
Part of being Confessionally Protestant (whether Lutheran or Reformed) is to believe that the primary means of grace is the preaching of the Word of God. See Romans 10 and I Corinthians 1 & 2. While emphasizing the importance of the written text of the Bible, the Reformers, and the denominational missionaries after them, believed that missions needed much more than a Bible translation. A.A. Hodge’s book on Systematic Theology was translated, and a great project of OT & NT commentaries was initiated. The Psalter was translated and we sang it in a beautiful Arabic poetic style.
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Posted by SWM